Farewell OGL

Resistance Earth RPG cover. A lone figure faces a desolate landscape, their rifle on their back.

There’s been some . . . issues with Wizards of the Coast recent handling of the Open Game Licence, the licence that SEP published almost all of its first products–many of them under the d20 sub-licence. I still have a bunch of OGL products out there, some of them very recent, using newer rules’ sets.

But the recent attempt to pull the rug from under creators by WotC, probably to please their corporate masters at Hasbro, has soured me on the OGL entirely. I invested a lot of time into these products, and a bunch of them are not anywhere near paying that off, but I’d rather just be done with them and snip that cord. Get free of it.


Not The Time for THAT Kind of Direct Action

This being released concurrently with a post at my Patreon.

TL,DR: I support the protest of police violence against the Black community and demand police reform. Due to current circumstances, I am unwilling to release a game of military action, and will re-purpose it as a SF-action game of resistance against alien overlords in a near future Earth. 

If you disagree that systemic racism is an issue in the US, Canada, and pretty much around the globe, and that we—as the privileged—need to support the Black community, please don’t support me. You don’t want to give me your money as it will be going to support the Black community and police reform.

Okay, the details:

I hope everyone is well and safe. These are truly trying times, and while Canadian streets are not seeing the same kind of protest as many US streets are, we are not insensate to what is happening. Change must occur in Canada as much as the US—I honestly don’t know a country in which racial equality is not a problem.

And if you disagree with that, you would probably be happier not following me and not supporting my work, because I feel very strongly about this. I have been supporting food banks the last couple of months, but I will be supporting causes that have come to the fore in this crisis, causes that are supported by the Black community and especially Black creators and members of the tabletop RPG community.

Having said all that, the militarization revealed in the police force, the use of National Guard troops, and the threat of using US service personnel to police US streets has made me feel very queasy about working on and publishing a game about the military right now. Much like WARMONGER changed because of the COVID-19 virus, I feel Direct Action must change due to current circumstances.

The game will remain the same, I’ve been running two concurrent alpha playtests and the rules are getting close to a viable form. There are much less changes than initially planned, mostly because d20 and 5E were pretty solid platforms to begin with.

So, instead of Direct Action, I’ll be releasing Resistance: EARTH. Themes resonant with the current crisis is appreciated but unplanned. I had playtesters who were not at all interested in playtesting modern SOF, so Resistance: EARTH became a setting we could playtest the rules in.

Resistance: EARTH is kind of a post-apocalyptic action-adventure RPG. You play part of a resistance against alien overlords 10 years after an invasion. A primer is available at my Patreon which provides some insight into what I am proposing.

Thank you as always for your support. Please feel free to cancel that support. You won’t be missed.

Modern Sword’s Edge

This is the final in a selection of examples from different genres I’ve run using Sword’s Edge, which is presently in the middle of Kickstarting. Which you have, of course, backed. I mean, you’re reading this, which is about this game, and this game is awesome, so you’ve backed it. It’s only logical . . .

This time, let’s look at the present day.

The second game I am running right now with Sword’s Edge is a modern actioner in which the PCs are member of Canadian Special Operations Force Command who have been called into a central African nation due to the disappearance of a CANPER (Canadian Person) of political value. So far, it’s been mostly investigative, but fireworks have been promised and they will happen.

Hear that guys? Lock and load.

The rebel fighters, the official militia and the government paramilitary are all basically the same, and these are the minions our boys will be crossing as some or all of them attempt to impede the rescue of that CANPER.

Rapid Support Forces
(Basic minion) 8
Concept: Fake Tough, +2

They turned to a local fixer who had connections with most of the dominant cultures of the region, and she’s got them audiences with some bad people who nevertheless might be helpful. You’ll notice she’s not a standard Regular, and I find that sometimes one needs a Regular+ when the character isn’t necessarily expected to be boss (or Hero) level.

Amira Ishag
(Good regular) 17
Concept: Face, +2
Physique -2; Charisma +2; Cunning +2

Finally, the team has not yet started along the trail that will lead them to the CANPER, but one of the obstacles they will have to overcome is a notorious mercenary, someone who could challenge them when the bullets start to fly but isn’t too dangerous.

AKA Notorious Mercenary
(Average hero) 12
Concept: Merc, +4
Physique +4; Charisma +2; Cunning +0
Gunman (Phy) +4, Intimidation (Cha) +2

So those are a few modern NCs one might find in many of the world’s hotspots. There’s plenty more where that comes from as I have a few adventures I can publish once Sword’s Edge comes out.

SEP State of Play

Every week I’m trying to get two articles up on the website, but some weeks it’s tougher than others. Tuesdays I generally like to have an advice column while on Thursdays I write about inspiration. This time, instead of providing advice, I’m going to let you know what is happening over at SEP.

The main concern for SEP (which is me) right now is Nefertiti Overdrive. It is in layout and the graphic designer – Rob Wakefield, who has laid out all our books since at least the Khorforjan Gambit – is optimistic about getting it back to me early July. Fingers are crossed. Once we get those files in a format with which we are both happy, the PDFs will be sent off to backers and to the printers to get some books done. I wish printing were faster, but due to schedules and the early start to Gen Con this year, I can’t see us having any Nefertiti Overdrive books to sell at the con.

However, I will be at the convention. The Nefertiti Overdrive games that I am running are all full, but I’ll be on the panel for a couple of seminars, and there are seats available to those. On Friday at 9 AM, I have “Indie RPG Matchmaker” with Jason Pitre of Genesis of Legend Publishing, while on Saturday at 1 PM, Ben Woerner who wrote World of Dew and I sit down to talk about “Historical Gaming.” I will be selling copies of both Sword Noir and Centurion there at the Independent Game Designers Network booth. Come by, say hi, shake hands and chat!

The play test for the game with the working title A Team of Pulp Losers is winding down, and the rules have proved successful through a one-year campaign. I am wondering about beta-testing these rules, but have had difficulty finding playtesters beyond my alpha-test circle. In the end, there is no business plan for these rules. I have not costed-out a release because I am a bit burned out on Kickstarter. What will happen to these rules? First, I need to find a better name. After that? We shall see.

Another system is ready to go for Gen Con. I’m calling it Fancy Pants because – as noted above – I suck at creating good titles. Fancy Pants is a game very much in the vein of Nefertiti Overdrive. It provides players with the opportunity to control the narrative and pushes them to get fancy – describing “success or failure in a way that is dramatic, cinematic, amusing or otherwise dazzling.” Unlike Nefertiti Overdrive, rather than providing an incentive by providing better dice or bonuses, getting fancy is tied to advancement. One Fancy Pants session at Gen Con will be based on Borderlands 2 while another is going to be a high octane action take on Sword Noir.

I honestly have no idea what will happen with Fancy Pants . . . even if it finds itself a good name.

There are two other completed systems that are steps between Nefertiti Overdrive and A Team of Pulp Losers: Direct Action and Starship Commandos. I’ve written about both games before, and they have both had shakedowns. They lack art or professional layouts, but they are ready to move forward.

And even with a backlog of four games, I have a new one for which I am about to pull the trigger on playtesting. This one is termed Riggers, although that name no longer applies. Riggers was tied more to the setting than the system, and I am working on playtesting the rules in a campaign attractive to my players. I intend to use the scenario generation system from Nefertiti Overdrive to create the campaign for the Riggers playtest. Maybe the setting will work with the name.

Riggers won’t be ready for prime time for at least a year. Like Centurion, it is a system built from scratch. Nefertiti Overdrive, like Sword Noir, was inspired by mechanics encountered elsewhere. Riggers was built from the ground up. I’m not going to say it’s totally new and unique, because I honestly expect someone at some point to say “this works just like X.” Still, because it’s new and unique to me, it’ll take a while to work out the kinks. Centurion changed dramatically during the playtest, and I expect something similar from Riggers.

So, there you go. Three completed games, two getting ready to have their tires kicked. Once Nefertiti Overdrive is in the hands of the backers, I’ll be doing some serious thinking about what I want to do and how I want to do it.

Until then, stick around. Let’s chat over at the SEP G+ group.

Give the People What I Want

I have a lot of ideas – ideas for games, ideas for adventures, ideas for fiction – so when it comes time to choose, I sometimes have problems. What should I work on? How should I do it? Who is it for?

This is easy in with my home group – whom I call the Ottawa Warband, since its inception was with the Viking adventure that led to the creation of Kiss My Axe: Thirteen Warriors and an Angel of Death. With the Warband, I can have them vote. I give them the kinds of games that are banging around in my skull, and they vote on which one they want to play: majority rules. So far, this has not cause any problem. The biggest problem is that I regularly change up my games (always chasing the bright shiny object).

Skydiver by Dean Martin
Skydiver by Dean Martin

When it comes time to release games to the public, I am faced with the same problem but lacking a clear solution. I can’t really get the public to vote. The one mechanism that is available for that – Kickstarter – is really its own beast. I suppose I could try a Kickstarter that offered a choice of games, but that’s going to run into problems as people might be willing to pay for an RPG mash-up of Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and James Cameron’s Aliens but not for a military special operations RPG.

So here I am, getting a game ready for release (once Nefertiti Overdrive is delivered) and honestly uncertain if this is the game on which I should be spending my time. It’s not just the system, it is also going to be a collection of adventures. The investment is only time – I’m using stock art I have from the Spec Ops line of SEP products and I’m doing the layout myself – but this is also the flagship for a new enterprise and business approach, so picking the wrong game could be a problem.

Still, it’s always a gamble, and I understand there is no way I’ll be making mad cash in this industry.

More on this new approach later.

You can find out more about Kiss My Axe: Thirteen Warriors and an Angel of Death here.

You can hear some of the adventures of the Ottawa Warband here.

You can read about Heinlein’s Starship Troopers at Wikipedia.

You can read more about Aliens at IMDB or Wikipedia.

Designing the Design

Some discussions have erupted in places I frequent regarding adventure design. I find the discussion fascinating, especially since I have recently struggled through preparing two adventures for publication – one in the Nefertiti Overdrive Quickstart and the second for the successfully Kickstarted Nefertiti Overdrive.

My biggest problem with adventure design is that my natural tendency as a GM is to use minimal prep with a page or two of ideas/resources and let the game go where it will. This does not a good published adventure make. My GMing has diverged dramatically from a course that allows it to work as a foundation for designing adventures for publication, and so such design takes a lot more time, effort, and thought that it used to.

I’ve folded much of what I use to direct games in an improvisational nature into my game design. Nefertiti Overdrive has both Drivers and Pivots, two signposts that tell me what my players want to include in a game. If someone’s Pivot is to find a brother’s murderer, that subplot needs to make an appearance every now and then – which is frankly awesome, because it allows me to weave a character into the metaplot in an unexpected way. “Your brother was working for who?!!?” If a character’s Driver refers to protecting the innocent, you know there are going to be some doe-eyed children threatened somewhere along the way.

It makes it easy to just throw out an opening scene and go.

Advancing through the foliage
In The Foliage by Dean Martin

I don’t think anyone is going to pay any kind of money for a published adventure that does this.

I will be publishing some adventures – along with some new systems – in the near future, so I need to put together the notes and resources I used and try to come up with an elegant and simple way to present the adventure to an audience.

This could be interesting.

Metro 2033+ . . . Seoul or Toronto?

Another computer game, another set of inspirations, another consideration of how I could port the experience to a tabletop RPG.

This time is it Metro 2033. This is a game I have long enjoyed, but because of its unforgiving nature – resource management is both very strict and very difficult in the game, especially the filters for your gas mask, absolutely essential when you go above ground – I have never got very far with it. I recently purchased the update – Metro 2033 Redux and Metro: Last Light Redux – and there is a version one can play on Metro 2033 Redux that is less resource management with the trade-off that there are more enemies to fight. I’m better with that, and have progressed further than I had previously.

I dig post-apocalyptic stories, and so Metro 2033 is right in my wheelhouse. For a guy like me who likes first person shooters but is actually quite bad at them, the game is extremely challenging. My only real issue with the game is that it is very railroad-y. One is following a specific story, rather than something like Fallout 3 and New Vegas – still my favourite computer games overall – which are totally open. So imagine something like Metro 2033 in an open world.

And there you’d have a great tabletop roleplaying game. My unreleased modern Spec Ops RPG, Direct Action, would work really well with only minimal additions – resource management is such an important aspect of Metro 2033, I’d need to include that in the game. I believe I would set it either in Seoul or Toronto – cities I know well that have very extensive subway networks and subterranean environments. Toronto would probably be the choice because the cultural starting point would be more recognizable for my players, and it can have really brutal winters, that I would like to weave into the plot.

What to call it? If this were Toronto, I’d probably call it the Cursed Path, since Toronto has an underground pedestrian network called the Path.

You can learn more about Metro 2033 here.

You can learn more about Metro 2033 Redux on Steam here.

You can learn more about Direct Action here.

You can learn more about Toronto’s un-cursed Path here.


Direct Action: OP NIFLEHEIM – Challenges

"Tactical Air Control" by IMK
“Tactical Air Control” by IMK

The below challenges aren’t really linked to any given area, although the first and last (approach and tossing the camp) are events. The rest refer to NPCs one might meet within the camp.

Before the game, it is important that the GM know for what the various buildings and areas are used, and where Al-Masri might be located. When I ran it, Al-Masri was in a building in the centre of the camp, which was made obvious due to the collapsible satellite dish on its roof. Also, the PCs were very conscientious and surveilled the camp for quite some time, figuring out the movement of the guards, and also deciding, based on activity, what the various buildings were. It would be good to have a schedule and some events prepared.

I used the evacuation of the camp (once they found out their contacts in Conakry were killed) as a kind of countdown, a ticking bomb as it were, forcing the PCs to act within a set time period. The activities in the camp clued the PCs in to the upcoming move, and actually got them to act before they intended.

I also threw in the arrival of a couple of technicals and a transport of weapons that were manned by East Africans – the PCs deduced, using Tests, that these were Somalis. This gave another thread to include in the planned campaign, just in case the PCs were a little too efficient in dealing with the opposition. Always nice to have another door for the PCs to open.


Approach Unseen
Difficulty: d8, there’s not a lot of cover in the desert
Threat: d4, could get seen, but no threat to life or limb . . . yet
Environment: depends on time of approach, night works in PCs favour d4, pre-dawn or post-dusk, d6, twilight or dawn d8, day d10 – approach too close with aircraft or helo, increase die type by 1 step
Complexity: d8, approaching a guarded camp
Damage Track: d8

The Guards
D: d8, Good training and experience
T: d8, use of AKs and use will alert the camp
E: d12 exceptionally hostile
C: d8, the better, smarter tangos of the group
Damage Track: d10

Lone Tango
D: d4 Basic, not well-trained
T: d6, spraying and praying with a lone AK
E: d6, knows the camp
C: d4, a single dude
Damage Track: d4

Small knot of Tangos (3 – 6)
D: d8, strength in numbers
T: d10, bunch of AKs
E: d6, know the camp
Complexity: d6, a few dudes
Damage Track: d8

Pack of Tangos (6-10)
D: d12, overwhelming numbers
T: d12, whole lotta lead
E: d6, know the camp
C: d8, surrounded, or near enough
Damage Track: d12

D: d6, trained but cowardly
T: d6, not good with the AK
E: d8, wily commuter who knows the camp
Complexity: d6, he’s tough, but not that tough
Damage Track: d8

Abu Dujana, Al-Masri’s bodyguard
D: d10, highly trained, motivated and brave
T: d10, precise work with an AK
E: d10, knows the terrain and how to use it
C: d10, bad-ass mo-fo
Damage Track: d10

Tossing the Camp
D: d8 finding that needle
T: d4 (unless there are still tangos about, then it’s d8, could alert the Tangos)
E: d10 large area, unknown to team
C: d8, lots of ground to cover
Damage Track: d6 find computers, d8 cellphones, d12 cache of portable drives sealed in a container

You can find the camp image here.

You can find more Spec Ops posts here.

You can find OP NIFLEHEIM posts here.

Direct Action: OP NIFLEHEIM – Handout Prep

Last post regarding OP NIFLEHEIM gave the general situation and how the PCs would be introduced to the adventure.

As a side note, I’m using Canadian military operations titling system, in which the first letter of the name is the first letter of the country in which the op is occurring and the word should be bilingual (or, in many cases, not English or French, such as OP SATURN – in Darfur, which is in Sudan).

“Pararescue Airmen mission ready for search, rescue” a U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Cecilio M. Ricardo Jr. from U.S. Air Force Photos

I mentioned in that last post Echo bringing imagery. Generally, that’s not the role of CSEC (Communications Security Establishment Canada, our version of the NSA and usually referred to as See-Sek), but in a situation such as in the adventure, it might be the only way to transfer highly classified documentation. Of course, for the purposes of the adventure, Echo is bringing along a secure system. That might raise questions if you are trying to run a relatively realistic scenario, in that higher classifications can require a SCIF (Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility). For classified imagery, a secure system outside a SCIF is probably fine.

What kind of information might this imagery relate? It’s probably got some indication of what the various buildings are used for, and there’s probably an estimate of the opposition and weaponry on site. For my map, I had nothing labelled – the imagery technicians didn’t have the kind of information or time they would need to make that kind of analysis. What I did indicate was:

Garambak Camp, Niger, 122123 May 13
Expected enemy complement 100 to 200
Expected equipment level AK-47s, AKMs, RPGs, technicals, APCs, IFVs

The imagery was taken on the 12th of May, 2014 at 2123 Zulu (Coordinated Universal Time, generally synonymous to Greenwich Mean Time), and the techs have estimated the camp complement as well as identified material.

For the wanted poster, I took an image from the FBI’s most wanted terrorists list and tagged it with the following information:

Abdul Al-Masri (as a title, over the image of the target)

(the rest of the information in presented under the image)
Aliases: Abu Mariam, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah Ali, Abu Mohammed

Date(s) of Birth Used: Approximately 1973
Place of Birth: Egypt
Height: Approximately 5’8″
Weight: Unknown
Build: Medium
Hair: Dark
Eyes: Dark
Complexion: Olive
Sex: Male
Citizenship: Egypt
Language: Arabic
Scars and Marks: Al-Masri has a scar on the right side of his lower lip.
Remarks: Al-Masri cellphone geo-located to Garambak Camp, Niger on May 6, 2013.

So that’s the prep I did for handouts. Next, I’ll share the Challenges the PCs faced.

You can find more information on OP SATURN here and other Canadian operations here.

You can find more information on CSEC here and here.

You can find more about SCIFs here.

You can find the camp image here.

You can find the FBI most wanted terrorists here, and the dude I used here.

You can find more Spec Ops posts here.

You can find OP NIFLEHEIM posts here.

Direct Action: OP NIFLEHEIM – Sitrep

SniperA while back I was posting parts of the adventures I was running while playtesting a modern military special operations campaign which I called Direct Action. The last adventure was OP GRANGE. OP NIFLEHEIM follows on from OP GRANGE and has the team entering a terrorist camp in Niger.

Col. Terry Warner and MWO Chester “Watts” Watkins meet team at airport. They have arrived aboard the Challenger with a close personal protection detail from JTF2. A C-130 with a platoon from CSOR (Canadian Special Operations Regiment, usually referred to as See-Sore) is due in the next few hours. Col Warner will be departing with the ambassador but the warrant will remain with the team to brief.

The colonel congratulates the men on a job well done, and getting a goddamn police escort to the airport. That’s how he likes to see things done.

The ambassador is effusive in his praise.

When they have departed, Watts takes the team to a quiet office inside the airport. He drops Al-Masri sheet on the desk there.

The points Watts will pass along

  1. This fucker wanted to buy the ambassador from the assholes who kidnapped him. He was the one talking to the gunrunner in Guinea-Bissau.
  2. He called from a location in Niger using an Algerian cell number.
  3. CSEC (Communications Security Establishment Canada, usually referred to as See-Sek) has tracked him to a camp just outside Garambak in Niger. That’s in the west of the country, near the borders with Algeria and Mali, crawling with Tuareg and AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb)
  4. While the local Nigerien forces won’t do anything about it, France wants to nuke the camp from orbit, but are being restrained because of the possibility of hostages being held in the camp – possibly French hostages. There is a Canadian Defence Attaché team in Niamey trying to get cooperation from the brass.
  5. The Agency doesn’t believe this joker is a top tier bad-guy, so someone’s pulling his chain.

Watts will provide imagery of the camp location.

  1. This camp has no road access to it, though there are paths vehicles can use.
  2. Only get a flyover once a day, and have noted only minimal activity
  3. CSEC rep with secure comms (communications) will be arriving with CSOR, and will have an imagery analysis report

When the C-130 touches down, the CSOR platoon includes CSEC liaison, Clara Lithwick, known at the Hill as Echo Charlie or just Echo. She’s ex-military, tall, swimmer’s build, and the target of just about every hetero male on the Hill. She’s got secure comms gear and indicates:

  1. Al-Masri has been calling someone named Abbas in the northern part of Pakistan’s tribal region
  2. The French are concerned French hostages still at large may be in the camp. They want to babysit us, and that’s the only way we’ll get access. We’re going in with their Marine Parachute Regiment. They have agreed we can turn over (search) the camp as long as we share anything we grab. The Nigeriens are following the French on this, so Niamey won’t say boo.
  3. No one else wants in on this one. Everyone’s still smarting from the In Amenas debacle.

She has imagery of the camp itself.

For imagery of the area surrounding the camp, I just took a Google Maps shot from Niger near the tri-border area. For the camp, I used an image available at Global Security and cropped out some of the captions.

You can find the camp image here.

You can find more Spec Ops posts here.

You can find OP GRANGE posts here.